Growing project gets jump on Mother Nature

LEFT: The Taber, Alta., district growing project for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank harvested 115 acres of spring wheat Aug. 31. It was the 25th year of growing projects for  participating Taber-area farmers. Organizer Jeremy Wind is hoping this year’s event will raise at least $100,000. Proceeds are used by the CFB to assuage hunger in countries  where help is needed. Wind estimated the irrigated crop would yield 80 to 85 bushels per acre, slightly lower than usual due to hot, dry conditions this summer. Local farmers  brought 10 combines to the site, along with trucks and grain carts. RIGHT: Ed Hendricks of Taber, Alta., observes harvest activity. Though he said he spent many hours in  combines during his farming career, his son has since taken over the farm and now he takes pleasure in watching the process. | Barb Glen photos

Organizers had to scramble to stay ahead of the rain as they prepared to harvest barley for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank

Months had passed in southern Alberta with no rain. Growing projects for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank throughout the region saw the crops ripen early amid relentless heat and smoky skies.

But as luck would have it, rain was in the forecast on the very day the Coaldale-Lethbridge project planned to harvest its 180 acres of barley.

Project managers leaped into action, calling all participants and asking them to show up one day early, on Aug. 16. Farmers were asked to bring their combines, trucks, grain carts and balers one day sooner than planned, potentially interrupting individual harvest plans. Sponsors who prepared and donated lunch and refreshments for the harvest crew and spectators got their acts together one day early and everyone gathered in the field.

The crop was harvested and the project raised $190,000 from the sale of barley and straw, plus $23,000 in additional donations.

“It was the most amazing thing,” said Larry Penner, one of the organizers. “At first, we were going to eliminate all the festivities but when we put the calls out … we pivoted to a full scale, with everybody attending Monday.

“We really realized the importance of this event to draw the community in to support it.”

As it happened, rain did fall on the previously designated harvest day, putting smiles on many faces and for many reasons.

A similar situation faced organizers of the Newell growing project for the foodgrains bank, when rain forced a change of date on short notice near Brooks, Alta. Harvest took place Aug. 30 instead of the previously planned Aug. 31 date.

That project raised $97,485 from the sale of hard red spring wheat from 102 irrigated acres rented from the Barg family.

Organizer Fred Preston said seven combines, one grain cart and six semi-trucks harvested and delivered the crop and about 120 spectators came out to watch. The project also involves a harvest supper planned Nov. 6, which he said often raises just as much as the grain sales.

Jeremy Wind, left, briefs the combine operators before the harvest begins. | Barb Glen photo

The community aspect of Canadian Foodgrains Bank growing projects is important, said Ary Vreeken, the Alberta regional representative for the charity.

Each is unique, “but what they have in common is that they bring the community together,” he said.

“Having just come out of COVID, when we were so restricted at meeting, it makes it clear how important it is to have these community events. It’s much more than just the income we get from the grain. It’s people working to a common cause. The community effort here in Canada is significant.”

Vreeken said there are 32 active growing projects in Alberta this year. As is typical, those in the south harvest first because of earlier crop maturity. Most projects in central and northern Alberta have yet to harvest and will do so in coming weeks.

Many projects have been running for years, among them the one in Taber that completed the 25th consecutive harvest on Aug. 31.

Organizer Jeremy Wind directed farmers who brought 10 combines, plus grain trucks, grain carts and a baler to harvest 115 acres of irrigated spring wheat that yielded an estimated 80 to 85 bushels per acre.

Ten combines stood ready to begin harvest. | Barb Glen photo

Funds raised were unconfirmed at press time but Wind said organizers hoped to raise at least $100,000. Last year the project raised $130,000 and the year before that $190,000.

The federal government matches the funds raised from growing projects by a ratio of 4:1 when the money is used for famine relief, and by 3:1 if it is used for development work, explained Vreeken.

“That makes sense because providing food is much more expensive,” he said.

Funds raised in Alberta are not specifically earmarked for a specific country or situation, he added, but there is no shortage of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Vreeken said developing countries have been hit hard by the effects of COVID-19, through illness of course, but also through failed market access and lack of government support. The Canadian government has made an additional $20 million available to augment humanitarian efforts related to COVID recovery, Vreeken added.

The pandemic, drought, floods, locusts and conflict have been major issues this year, increasing the need for food aid efforts.

“We now see levels of hunger that we haven’t seen in decades,” said Vreeken.

However, food aid has improved the situation for many in past efforts and he is hopeful the foodgrains bank will help push back this year’s rising tide of hunger.

“We have shown over past decades that it is possible to improve food security in the developing world. We have seen an improvement in food security for those that we’ve worked with.”

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